For the years of 1999 – 2005, we needed Daniel Dumile and the super villain cast of characters he used to rap over beats. Emerging from the dungeon of label hell and the death of his brother Subroc, DOOM appeared on the landscape of Clintonian American stasis with rap as its soundtrack. Bad Boy, No Limit, and Cash Money were getting that major paper, while Rawkus and Stones Throw had become sites of refuge for us with more traditional and non-commercial taste. From his corner of New York (actually Atlanta), on one of hip hop’s most stridently independent labels, Fondle ‘Em, a rapper in his late 20s, wearing a make-shift Halloween mask, concocted the first of many albums deep in imagination, that flexed all skill and no bullshit.
Operation: Doomsday sounds like it was recorded on a karaoke mic, straight to cassette, next to a stack of comics, and a bottle of yak. Mr. Dumile through his character DOOM created one of the most insular and captivating rap albums of recent memory concerning grief, alcoholism, and how grimey NY still was. From there as rap and R&B merged in a two-head hydra of material opulence, one-dimensional thuggery, and bird-brain club anthems, Dumile (now with a refined mask made of steel) gave us the world’s of Viktor Vaughn, the three head space monster King Geedorah, linked up with Madlib and Danger Mouse, and produced some of the most critically acclaimed and memorable music from the first half of the past decade. You wanted lyricism, we had DOOM; you wanted fly loops and chops, we had DOOM; you wanted well executed concepts, we had DOOM. Without a doubt it was one of the most inspired and GOAT-worthy runs in rap’s recorded history.
It only made sense that in such barren times for quality rap, we needed a super villain to be our rap super hero. But rap (and America) is much different now, and Dumile’s complex cast of characters has been relatively quiet since. Three years have past since Born Like This dropped, and Key to the Kuffs arrives in a landscape where the underground is the internet, the labels have pulled the money from pop-rap, and the arbitrary line between street and conscious has all but been erased. So this semi-super group of Jneiro Jarrel and DOOM link up for 15 tracks of neo-noir space-age rap science.
“Boring Convo” is the villain in top form rapping about getting kicked out of America and blending into the streets of London over Jneiro’s muffled horn loop and factory line drum sounds. Earlier “Bite the Thong” slaps through speakers with its booming low-end and swirling sounds of bleeps and blaps as DOOM speaks on why his legend will remain after he’s done with rapping. Simply the song title is a metaphor for being nasty on the mic. Later, “GMO” finds DOOM in high-concept form painting pictures of a world full of sickness and disease, which by its end bleeds into a quick Jneiro solo rap over a crunchy melodious guitar chop. The album ends with Jneiro doing a fantastic parody of swag-rap’s sound for DOOM to completely flip the idea of fucking with a fine hoe with the wit and comedy of a wise uncle at the family bar-b-que.
But we end where we began. As the sloganeering of “Hip Hop being dead” went from quite whisper at the beginning of the aughts, to the Nas fronted gossip wire of 2006, for some of us it did seem to be near flat-lining. DOOM was there like a selfless doctor in a war zone healing the wounded. But now, with a wealth of high-quality rap songs and rappers (yes, lyrical miracle rappity-rap ass rappers), DOOM the villain, seems to no longer be needed. Simply put, DOOM now exists in a rap universe where he isn’t one of the few making great records. Yet, we welcome his presence, because with Key to the Kuffs, DOOM and Jneiro have crafted a quality rap album by skilled elders, who don’t need their songs to exist within the blog hype or whatever remains of “urban radio”. This is ear candy for us old heads who don’t have near as many problems with the youth running the streets now.